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Note from Kim: This guest post was written by my husband. Thanks Matt!
A recent rate hike brought the cost of our cable service (without premium channels), digital landline, and Internet access to more than $200 per month. This was the magic threshold that made me stop and think. How many of the 500 channels do we actually watch? How many phones does a family need?
Being tech-savvy and working in the software industry for the last 20 years, I decided to open up the “Google machine” and see what I could learn about containing the cost of entertainment and communication. I quickly discovered that I was not the only one thinking this way. It seems the revolt against the high costs of cable, Internet, and phone services has been going on for a while and there are a lot of solutions to choose from if you want to save some money. Since my wife and I need to have reliable Internet service for our jobs, I set my sights on eliminating our cable service and land telephone lines.
I can say my household experiment is still ongoing, but so far, so good. If you want to keep reading, I’ll share my trials and tribulations in making the change. If you make it to the end, I’ll tell you how much money I’ve been able to save so far!
Things to keep in mind
Cutting out cable
In my house, it was important that the wife and kids bought into my crazy new plan or we would have been doomed from the start. I had to be realistic because not only was the amount of content changing, but how we accessed it was going to change as well. Everyone needs to be involved in the process and have their concerns heard. We decided to start our experiment with the understanding that we can always go back in a month or two if Dad couldn't make it easy enough for everyone to watch some of their favorite shows.
Once everyone agreed to try life without cable, it was time to figure out what we do watch and if it was possible to get rid of 490 of the 500 channels. Looking through our TiVo seasons’ passes revealed an interesting fact. A lot of the shows my wife and I watched were on network TV. Yep, the same network TV that I can get free over the air. I also think the picture is even better than cable! The kids were a little more difficult, but between Netflix, PBS, and YouTube, I think they are now covered. My biggest concern was going to be sports. Right now, I’m pretty well covered between local programming OTA and watching ESPN3 on my PC.
Since we were used to watching TV with TiVo, I wanted to keep this as part of the new solution. One HD antenna in the attic connected to my now defunct cable line and we had signal running to the two TiVo connected TV’s. Teaching the family on how to find shows and watch them on Netflix streaming through the TiVo was pretty easy.
We have also started to enhance our content by borrowing older movies from the library for free and renting newer titles from Redbox and Blockbuster kiosks for $1. We have been doing this for the last four months and the masses haven’t revolted. In fact, I think our habits are changing for the better. We are making conscious decisions on the content we watch instead of just flipping through the channels and tuning out. More movies have been watched and reading has returned as a form of entertainment.
Losing the land line
Our phone experiment has really just started (remember bullet three from above?) but seems to be working well and the change was actually even easier. Trust me, I did my best to over-think it, but in the end, I came to my senses. In our situation, every member of the family now has cell phones to handle our busy lives. Why pay for the redundant land line? There are many services out there like Google Voice that can give you a single number that rings all your cell phones if you feel the need for a family number.
Since I work out of the house, I picked up a Skype account as well. For $60 per year, I have a number that people can call from any land line as well as unlimited calls out to North America and Canada. I could probably do with out this, but it is nice for conference calls and so far the quality has been great.
When deciding to get rid of your home number, keep in mind that there are a lot of places that have that number as a contact point for you. Make sure you notify places like your kids’ schools, utilities, and friends on the best way to get in contact with you now.
So the big question is was this really worth all the effort? I really like the changes that are happening in our daily choices. I’m even more excited that my monthly bill has now dropped to around $50 for Internet service. That’s a difference of $150 per month and $1,800 per year! Not to bad and well worth the effort!
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We cut the cord by getting a cellphone gateway. This device allows you to disconnect your land line, plug the phones inside your house into it, then plug in a cellphone. When the cell rings, every phone in the house does too and the cell may be answered from any phone. When we pick up any phone in the house we get a dial tone just like a wired phone and can dial out local or long distance. Difference is, the outgoing call is going through the gateway and out over the cellphone. We combined this with with a $15 a month pay-as-you-go cellphone and there you have it. Complete home phone system for pennies.
Your advice is very sound I like how you talk about behaviour change which is not always easy in personal finance. It is easy to suggest changes that many in the personal finance world see as reasonable, but most of society will not buy into the cost savings if there is the slightest difference in the service they are used to.
I recently posted an article on my blog about the switch I made to Net Talk, a VOIP phone that costs $40 per year, resulting in $428 in savings. I realized afterwards that not many people are willing to change their behaviours for reasons such as; "I would lose the bundle pricing", or :"it is too risky if the power goes out". People are automatically drawn to the negatives, and don't see the positives. In your case, you have an extra $1,800 every year now to spend with the family.
I had AT& T cell service with my daughter @ $120/month. The day the contract ran out...I went to straight talk @ $30 each per month. Cable...OMG the cable companies really have you. I never understood why you can't purcahse channels a la carte??! Alot of our favorite shows are on the channels that cost the most money. But, in an effort to get my bill under $100 every month, i switched plans. We still have alot of options and my bill with internet is around$85. It WAS running around $128.00. I saved $103 per month by making these changes!
I shredded my cable to the minimum - under $50 a month and now there's nothing to watch. Those cable providers are a set of bandits and we the people need to start standing up for our rights, or I should say our survival. I cut down drastically on my cell phone bill by getting Straight Talk prepaid for $30 a month, but I still can't bring myself to cut my land line. For one thing, I have an alarm system and like you, I need reliable internet service. And what about the rising cost of food? Do those of us who can't grow our own produce stop eating? There's only so much we can do to save.
Try out the Mohu Leaf Antenna. When you purchase this HDTV over the air antenna that is paper thin on Amazon you can get $4 off using the code "leaf4off". They are currently giving away free shipping as well.
Thanks Stacey. I forgot to mention Hulu and Apple TV. There are lots of shows that have content on the web as well. Really the phone is the easiest part if you don't over think it. I was having a conversation last night with a friend and the concern of not having a house phone was bothersome. But for an extra 9.99 a month and a free phone you could add a line to your ATT cell bill and be set.
Jo, I also have Straight Talk and am loving the savings. I actually thought there would be nothing to watch without cable but I was so wrong. I canceled it completely and just use an antenna and I have plenty to watch on the main channels plus the internet (now that I can't live without). I cut my land line years ago and now that I have straight talk I am much more comfortable with my $30 monthly bill rather than over $150 with cable and phone. I would encourage people to try and see how it goes. You may surprise yourself
Fantastic, Matt. We have recently cancelled our cable, using Hulu, Apple TV and Netflix for our tv watching. You have inspired me to work on the phone next!
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